Roses in God’s Garden, by Venerable Fulton Sheen, 5 February 1933

1952 photograph of Venerable Fulton John Sheen produced as promotional material for the television show 'Life is Worth Living'One cannot be indifferent in a moral universe which involves the conflict of virtue and vice but must exercise that violence which alone can bear away the kingdom of heaven. This violence in Christian language is mortification, the sole inspiration of which is the love of God. There are many ways to attain this love, among which two deserve special mention: one is to seek the Divine love through the Divine and that is the way of the religious life; the other is to seek the divine through the human and that is the way of matrimony. Here I am presently concerned with the first way of those chosen souls who like moths leap into the flame, there to be consumed by love and yet live in it.

In order that we might understand it aright, two very important points must be borne in mind. The first is that everyone in the world is in pursuit not of the lovely which belongs to earth but of love which belongs to God. And secondly, that the religious does it directly through purity; so that the religious life may be defined as the pursuit of the love of God through purity.

Firstly, every human heart in the world is on the quest of the love of God even when it seems to be loving the lovely. The first look that man bestowed on the visible universe at the beginning of time was the sad look of Genesis; Adam found no one like unto himself, and when God gave him a companion like unto himself to people his solitude, console his loneliness and share his embrace, he found neither in her nor in all created nature the satisfaction of his souFs desires and the full enjoyment of his ecstatic energies. From that day on to this all love seeks something beyond the material object that it loves. Hence, there is something eternal involved in the quest for love, for no man could ever love anything unless he thought it eternal. The real object of love is not flesh and blood, but the ideal which flesh and blood evokes, for every human heart seeks to eternalize and inflnitize the object of its love. That is why in human love the chase has sometimes the charm which the capture has not; that is w^hy so often the possession of an earthly love falls short of that for which we crave. That is why it may correctly be said that love is blind; for it is blind to defects, blind to evil, blind to limitations, blind to death. That, too, is why all the poetry of love is a cry and a moan, and the more pure it is, the more it pleads; the more elevated it is above the earth, the more it laments. If a cry of joy interrupts this pleading, it is to celebrate the ravishing of an hour, and then to fall back into the immensity of desire. That is why our nature is fortifled by the imagination which puts before us the thought of the beautiful, so that when earthly beauty has faded from our eyes, we might revive the ideal more beautifully still in our imagination. The heart of man then is not to blame if he fills the earth with his chant of sorrow, for the real object of his love is not the lovely which is of the kingdom of time, but the Loveliness which is the heart of the pure and infinite God.

It is from this flaming heart of God that the sparks of our own poor hearts have been kindled. This brings us to the essence of the religious life which is not the indirect quest of the Divine through the human, but the direct pursuit of the Divine through purity. Oh! how little our modern world, intoxicated by the wild jargon of sex, has understood the soulful meaning of purity!

Pure love is a kind of holy of holies of which the sacristan is purity. There are those who mock at purity as something negative, or as a suppression of a vital urge, or as a thing cold, inert and dead. Purity is not something negative but something positive. Just as mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people punishment, but rather something plain and positive, so too purity does not mean merely abstention from sexual wrong, it means participation in the sublime, something flaming and burning – like the Little Flower. Purity is not a prudish or an hysterical disgust; but a reverence for God and His creation, which consents to nothing incompatible with the light of holiness which shines upon us from the countenance of Jesus. It is something which lives in the sight of God’s ineffable purity and which sets the heart on fire and opens the eyes to the vision of that which only the clean of heart may see, and that vision is so clean that it does not deny the existence of sex, but remains untainted by its intoxicating breath. Its prototype is the purest of the pure, the Virgin Mother, who knew all and yet knew purity more; for when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the Mother of God, she replied: “How shall this be, seeing I know not man?” Purity is not abstention from passion but the passionless passion which makes of a Magdalene a saint and of an Augustine a priest and a saint. It is something that revels in the preciousness of the unopened bud, and to those modern minds who would make it something frozen and sterile, there should be the memory that at the heart of love’s reddest rose may reign the whitest purity. From every pure heart there goes to God the prayer:

“Do Thou with Thy protecting hand
Shelter the flame Thy breath has fanned;
Let my heart’s reddest glow
Be, but as sun-flushed snow.

“And if they say that snow is cold,
O, Chastity, must they be told
The hand that’s chafed with snow
Takes a redoubled glow?

“That extreme cold like heat doth sear?
O to this heart of love draw near.
And feel how scorching rise
Its white-cold purities!”

Such is in brief the religious life of consecrated souls: the pursuit of God through purity. Although many minds are willing to concede that the real goal of the human heart is God, they are not willing to admit that one should seek it directly, and hence they raise a mild protest against the young man and woman who leave the lights and glamours of the world in the full bloom and blossom of life, for the shades and shadows of the Cross where saints are made. They can understand why a human heart should weave the tendrils of its affection around a passing love, but they cannot understand why those tendrils should be rooted in a love that is eternal. They can understand why youth should love the lovely, but they cannot understand why it should love Love. They quickly comprehend why affection should be directed toward an object which age corrodes and death separates, but they cannot grasp the meaning of an affection which death makes more intimate and present. They can understand why the human heart should love the spark, but they cannot understand why it should love the Flame!

But, why should there not be hearts in the world like Saint Agnes who could say before her martyrdom when an earthly love was presented to her: “The kingdom of the world and every ornament thereof have I scorned for the love of Jesus Christ, my Lord, Whom I have seen and loved, in Whom I have believed and Who is my love’s choice!” Why should there not be young men and women who would put their whole selves at the disposal of God, for the value of every gift is enhanced if it exists solely for the one to whom it is given, fulfills no other purpose and remains unshared? Why should there not be hearts so much in love with God that they should build walls around themselves, not to keep themselves in, but to keep the world out? Why should there not be Jameses and Johns and Marys and Magdalens at the foot of the Crucifix of the twentieth century as well as at the foot of the Cross of the first? Why should there not be hearts whose first love is their last love, which is the love of God?

Why should there not be roses in God’s garden? In an earthly garden is an earthly rose which has its own father and mother, brothers and sisters, hopes and aspirations for the future, its own joys and sorrows, its own laughter when there is sunshine, and its own tears when there is dew. Out into the garden comes a human hand that plucks the rose and destroys its life. The rose has a life and a right to live that life, and yet no injustice is done nor murder committed, for the hand of man is above the rose in dignity and worth and may use the rose for his own sweet purposes.

In the human family is a human rose with its own real father and mother, brothers and sisters, hopes and aspirations for the future, its own real laughter and its own real tears. From out the high heavens there comes the Hand of the. Everlasting Gardener Who plucks up the human rose and de- stroys its life, insofar as its human environment is concerned, for that young man or woman has a hu- man life and the right to live it. But there is no injustice done nor murder committed, for as the hand of man is above the earthly rose, so the Hand of God is above the human soul, and may use it to His own sweet purposes – and God’s purposes are always sweet.

But it may be asked, what benefit accrues to the poor rose which is plucked from the earthly garden? It is put into a crystal vase, refreshing waters are poured on it from day to day; it is touched by human hands, it may even be pressed to human lips, and like another John may be privileged to tabernacle its crimson head upon the breast of the Eucharistic Emmanuel. Its earthly life is shortened, yes. But what a beautiful life it now begins to lead with man!

In like manner, when God plucks the young human heart from the garden of the human family, it is placed in the crystal vase of His Church, refreshing waters of sanctifying grace are poured on it from day to day, it is touched by the hands of the Saints and the Mother of God, and is pressed in daily communion to the Heart of Christ. Its human life is shortened, yes. But what a beautiful life it now begins to lead with God!

Such is the story of Love under the high patronage of the pure Mother Immaculate, the starry treachery of whose eyes tempts us back to Paradise.